Former Pennsylvania judge goes on trial over juvenile sentencing scandal

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[JURIST] Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] on Monday began selecting the jury in the corruption trial of former Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella for his role in a juvenile sentencing scandal [JURIST news archive]. Ciavarella, a former judge in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, is accused of receiving kickbacks for sentencing teenagers to two private juvenile detention facilities in which they had a financial interest. Ciavarella is charged [UPI report] with 39 counts of honest services fraud, racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud, bribery, extortion and tax evasion. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

In July, Judge Edwin Kosik accepted [JURIST report] a plea agreement [text, PDF] with former Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan for his involvement in the juvenile sentencing scandal. Conahan now faces a 20-year prison sentence, a fine of up to $250,000 and disbarment. Kosik had previously rejected [JURIST report] joint plea agreements [text, PDF] from Conahan and Ciavarella, finding that plea bargaining to honest services fraud and tax evasion charges demonstrated that the men did not accept responsibility and that the disbarment and 87-month prison sentences were too lenient [JURIST op-ed]. In October 2009, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania [official website] overturned about 6,500 convictions [JURIST report] handed down by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, but gave prosecutors permission to seek retrial of more than 100 youths who were still under court supervision. Conahan and Ciavarella were indicted in September of 2009, following a withdrawal of the guilty pleas they entered [JURIST reports] in February 2009.

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